Pleading Out: How Plea Bargaining Creates a Permanent Criminal Class

Basic: Perseus. Mar. 2022. 336p. ISBN 9781541674677. $30. LAW
The majority of criminal cases in the United States don’t go to trial; instead, prosecutors obtain convictions through plea bargaining, in which defendants plead guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for a more lenient sentence. With this astute work, civil rights lawyer Canon (law, Univ. of Louisville) argues that this devastating, absurd practice has ruined countless lives. Canon chronicles the origins of plea bargaining and discusses how it is weaponized against people—especially low-income people and people of color—to pressure them into accepting punishments for crimes they didn’t commit. He weaves together stories of the major players, including the accused, the victims, and the jurors, as well as the prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, and lawmakers who are caught up in a system that punishes those who seek access to a trial. Readers will be infuriated by accounts that illustrate all too clearly how plea bargaining has ruined lives and maintained historical inequities. Canon also lays out a nuanced, practical strategy for achieving lasting change in the criminal justice system and analyzes the barriers and misconceptions that keep plea bargaining alive.
VERDICT Written clearly and persuasively, with compassion and expertise, Canon’s work is an essential read, especially for those who interact with or are interested in policing, incarceration, and the justice system.
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